More Facts have emerged given the real reason the embattled former governor of Abia state and chief Whip of the senate, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu was freed at the apex court after exhaustive proceeding from the lower court that initially convicted him to twelve years in a correctional centre in Abuja.
The apex court in a unanimous judgment by a seven-man panel of Justices led by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, nullified the entire proceedings that led to Kalu’s conviction, even as it ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to re-assign the money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him and two others, to another judge for re-trial.
Giving it reasons on the judgment read by Justice Ejembi Eko, the Supreme Court held that the trial High Court Judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, acted without jurisdiction when he convicted Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and a former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu.
It noted that Justice Idris was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as at December 5, 2019, when he sat and delivered the judgement that convicted the defendants for allegedly stealing about N7.1billion from Abia state treasury.
It said having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before then lacked the powers to return to sit as a High Court Judge. It held that the Fiat that was issued to him by the Court of Appeal President pursuant to section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, was unconstitutional.
The apex court held that no statute in Nigeria empowered the Court of Appeal President to give vires to a Justice of the appellate court to return to the High Court to deliver judgments in a pending criminal trial, stressing that the Court of Appeal President, “acted ultra-vires his powers when she purportedly gave the authorization” with respect to Kalu’s case.
“The Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal are all courts that were set up and established by the Constitution.
No head of either court perform the function or interfere in the internal activities of either court. “Just as the Court of Appeal President has no power to assign case to any Federal High Court Judge, so also does the Federal High Court Chief Judge lack the powers to interfere in the activities of the Court of Appeal”, Justice Eko held.
He held that the Court of Appeal President, by issuing a letter to Justice Idris to return to the Federal High Court to conclude the trial of Kalu and his co-defendants, usurped the power of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Judges for both superior courts, as well as the power of Chief Judge of the High Court to assign cases to Judges under him. Consequently, the apex court held that since Justice Idris returned to the trial court based on an unconstitutional directive by the Court of Appeal President, the judgment and subsequent conviction of the defendants amounted to a nullity.
It, therefore, ordered that the charge in the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CR/26/2017, which EFCC entered against Kalu and his co-defendants, should be remitted back to Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to any other judge for the trial to commence de-novo (afresh).
The judgment followed an appeal Kalu’s firm, Slok lodged to challenge the jurisdiction of the high court that tried the matter and found the defendants guilty. It will be recalled that Kalu who is currently, the federal lawmaker representing Abia North Senatorial District, Slok, and a former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu; were initially convicted for allegedly using the firm to defraud the Government of Abia State in the eight years, Kalu held sway as governor of the state.
Meanwhile,the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) said it will commence retrial on Kalu since the apex court did not nullify his conviction.
The commission in a statement said although the supreme court did not acquit him of the charges of money laundering, the court only upturned the verdict of the trial court on the ground that Mohammed Liman, the judge who heard the case was no longer a judge of the federal high court at the time he handled and delivered judgment on the matter
The anti-graft agency described the judgment as a technical ambush against the trial of the former governor.
”The attention of the Economic And Financial Crimes commission, EFCC, has been drawn to the judgment of the Supreme Court nullifying the trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and Jones Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Account of Abia State Government and ordering their fresh trial at the lower court,” it said in a statement issued by Dele Oyewale, its spokesman.
”The apex court based its verdict on the grounds that Justice Mohammed Idris, who convicted Kalu and others had been elevated to the Court of Appeal before the judgment and returned to the lower court to deliver the judgment which is considered as illegal.
”The EFCC considers the judgment of the apex court as quite unfortunate. It is a technical ambush against the trial of the former governor.
”The Commission is prepared for a fresh and immediate trial of the case because its evidence against Kalu and others is overwhelming. The corruption charges against Kalu still subsist because the Supreme Court did not acquit him of them. The entire prosecutorial machinery of the EFCC would be launched in a fresh trial where justice is bound to be served in due course.”